The case against adolescence

Teens in America are in touch with their peers on average 65 hours a week, compared to about four hours a week in preindustrial cultures.

Here is more.  The problem, of course, is that a contemporary wise and moderate 33 year old is looking to climb the career ladder, find a mate, or raise his babies.  He doesn’t have a great desire to educate unruly fifteen year olds and indeed he can insulate himself from them almost completely.  He doesn’t need a teenager to carry his net on the elephant hunt. Efficient capitalist production and rising wage rates lead to an increased sorting by age and the moral education of teens takes a hit.   

Here is an interview with Robert Epstein, recommended.  His new book, The Case Against Adolescence, argues that teenagers should be treated much more like adults.


As a culture we are delaying childhood until the age of 22 or 23 years old and it is having an extremely negative
impact. Furthermore, young people are told that at 27 or 28 that they are "too young" to get married. The behaviorial impact of this near 30 year childhood is significant. I couldn't agree more with Epstein's observations.

This phenomenon has long intrigued me. There are peculiar challenges associated with raising children in the post-industrial / information age. I have observed the superiority of the Old-Order Mennonite (horse and buggy) / Amish model. Their children contribute to the family and family business at a very young age. They work side by side with the adults in the community. They learn how to be an adult by being with adults.

My feeling is that delayed maturity - 'psychological neoteny' - has pros and cons, but that overall it is an advantage in modernizing societies - primarily because it keeps people mentally-flexible, which is necessary in a rapidly and unpredictably changing world.

This is only something to be worried about if you think that people's moral and social development is primarily a matter of interacting with or being explicitly taught by their elders. As a a matter of fact, that's a contentious claim. Most of the research I'm familiar with points to the influence of peer groups during the teenage years (and this is a cross-culturally stable fact if my understanding is right).

Lutton is right .Life expectancy was 19 years by that time

8 -

Lord of the Flies is fiction. Very much so.

When I worked as an engineer in Germany, I came across an older book in the engineering library that described how a master should treat an apprentice. It had a very detailed plan for introducing the apprentice to his trade guild and the steps to make the apprentice a master in his own right. While ridgid, there were many lessons that I will apply to raising my own children.

MH, would love to know the name of this book. Thanks.

"At any rate, I wholly agree that we infantilize teenagers more than strictly necessary. Octavian conquered the world at 18, you know. Ditto Alexander."

I think that is a really depressing thought for us 30-somethings who still don't actually have anything resembling an accomplishment. :-)

However, do note that both of these figures were born into positions of political priveledge in way that does not replicate in the modern era. I also wonder if modern systems are more complex (due to the ability to transfer information much faster than rider-back) and require longer mentorship.

All that being said, as noted above, Paul Graham has a good point about just how bad the modern situation is.

My wife and I have been on this general subject for months now, and we've already come to a grand conclusion, which Epstein supports 100%, that despite efforts at reducing the exposure of pop-culture on our youth, they are still molded more so by their peers than their families. (In context to parents taking away the television, et cetera.)

Some of the earlier comments were missing the larger point of our modern society producing a sub-culture where the adolescent mindset goes unchecked. Even in a primitive society where perhaps there would be a great number of young people working together, they would be doing so in the larger context of the working, real world.

Not the little bubble of televised teenage-dom where everything is solved in 60 minutes or less, and we all ride off in the sunset with the girl, the money, the car and the cool tattoo to prove it.

It might be perfectly natural for a 15 year old to think they know everything, but putting them in an insular world that only reinforces such foolishness is devastating.

In a NYTimes article, Tyler Cowen argues that the "relatively unstructured lives of U.S. teenagers" ensures production of many young entrepreneurs. How does this impact the case against adolescence?

On page 323 of Case Against Adolescence the author Robert Epstein states in his recommendations that
"parents or school authorities should be able to strike unemancipated young people only when they can demonstrate that other reasonable means of behavior management failed." This permission to strike adolescents and children in school is dangerous and over half the states in the US made it illegal and the important professional societies such as the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and National Association of Social Workers among numerous other organizations oppose it. On page 333 he states that corporal punishment is" the only technique we know that can supress behavior immediately or long term." There is no accepted scientific evidence to support this claim. As AN ADMINISTRATOR WITH 33 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE WITH CHILD ABUSE, NEGLECT AND EVERY TYPE OF SITUATION IN BETWEEN this scares me for the children. There is an avalanche of research that opposes his beliefs. Keep this in mind about this book.

Assaulting a minor is far to often a venting of frustration by the striker. It is seldom don't with the benefit of victim in mind. Assaulting minors is most often an attempt to humiliate the minor into submission. A healthy family life cannot use humiliation as a tool of teaching acceptable behavior. Adolescents crave respect - even when they suspect they are wrong.

Our culture suppresses self-esteem at a critical point in the developmental transition from child to adult. For the most part, I agree with Epstein (I haven't finished his book yet). I will admit that I struck my son a few times when he was an infant. I slapped his hand when he was endangering himself - to touch a hot stove. But, I always followed that up with an explanation ( not yelling ) of why I did what I did. I note that he stopped crying rather quickly and avoided those dangerous things. When out of doors he was always watched. He never ran into the street - not once. We talked to him as if he were an adult. He's 31 now and he seems just fine with a healthy self-esteem. I would commend the books of Haim Ginnot to complement Epstein.

It is seldom don't with the benefit of victim in mind. Assaulting minors is most often an attempt to humiliate the minor into submission. A healthy family life cannot use humiliation as a tool of teaching acceptable behavior. Adolescents crave respect - even when they suspect they are wrong.

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